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Experts offer up ideas for 'community hub'

Professionals recommend how to develop Laguna Niguel property that has 500,000 square feet of unused land.

October 06, 2011|By Joanna Clay

LAGUNA NIGUEL — The Urban Land Institute (ULI) presented at Tuesday's City Council meeting some recommendations for a town center "hub," which included ideas regarding nightlife, housing and restaurants.

The county and city sponsored the nonprofit's investigation into how best to develop the property, which currently holds City Hall, the library, the former South County Courthouse site and half a million square feet of unused land.

A master plan was previously developed in 2008, back when the county planned to expand the courthouse. The project stalled due to financial resources and the county courts' reorganization. The South County Courthouse is no longer in use.

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Community Development Director Dan Fox said he imagines the county will do a similar type of master plan for the property.

A panel of nine professionals from different fields — such as real estate, planning, financial, marketing and development — came together to access the area with ULI.

Two of the panelists, Bill Phillips of the Hogle-Ireland consulting firm and Russ Parker of Parker Properties, gave their recommendations to the council.

Phillips advocated the creation of a "unique community hub" with features such as community art installations, necklaces of pedestrian spaces, holistic landscaping and development scaled to people instead of cars.

After talking to residents, Phillips noticed that the demand for restaurants was high in the community and that many locals said they traveled beyond a five-mile radius for dining.

He also mentioned the development of apartments and small hotels. He cited Manhattan Beach, which has a small 50-room hotel in its town center.

Phillips noted that newer generations value hands-on learning and mastering a skill; he advocated businesses that do things like teach cooking classes.

"It's really the new leisure activity," he said.

Parker echoed the statement, saying that people want an experience.

Attractive features, like Fashion Island's koi ponds or Irvine's walkways, could make outdoor spaces feel like "a second living room for the community," he said.

He also pushed for nightlife improvements, suggesting gastropubs or other gathering spots to eat, drink and hang out.

"Our community shuts down at 8 p.m.," he said with a laugh. "I'm not sure that a couple nights a week we couldn't bump it up."

The City Council was supportive of the recommendations. Councilwoman Linda Lindholm said she would do whatever she could to help the process move forward.

Councilman Robert Ming said he found recommendations he agreed with and others he wasn't fond of.

"I don't think we're going to stand in the way of something that makes sense," he said.

County Supervisor Patricia Bates said the next step is figuring out how the city and county can work together.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but hopefully we can make some progress over the next year or two and get some plans in place," Fox said.

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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